This is Part 10 in a series – The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: Compelling Evidence
So although many theologians try to play off the ‘massiven Realismus’ of the gospels against a Pauline doctrine of a spiritual resurrection body, such reasoning rests on a fundamental and drastic misunderstanding of Paul’s doctrine. One cannot but suspect that the real reason for scholarly scepticism concerning the historicity of the gospel appearances is that, as Bultmann openly stated, this is offensive to ‘modern man,’ and that Paul has been made an unwilling accomplice in critics’ attempts to find reasons to support a conclusion already dictated by a priori
But Paul will not allow himself to be put to this use; a careful exegesis of Pauline doctrine fully supports a physical resurrection body. And, it must be said, this was how first century Christians apparently understood him, for the letters of Clement and Ignatius prove early wide acceptance of the doctrine of physical resurrection in first century churches, including the very churches where Paul himself had taught. The ground is thus cut from beneath those scholars who object to the historicity of the gospel resurrection narratives because of their physicalism.
Historicity of bodily resurrection
But more than that: given the temporal and personal proximity of Paul to the original witnesses of the resurrection appearances, the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus can scarcely be denied. For the physicalism of the gospels cannot now be explained away as a late legendary or theological development; on the contrary, what we see from Paul is that it was there from the beginning. And if it was there from the beginning, then it must have been historically well- founded–otherwise, one is at a loss how to explain that the earliest witnesses should believe in it. Though it is constantly repeated that the physicalism of the gospels is an anti-docetic apologetic, scarcely a single piece of evidence is ever produced in favor of this assertion–and mere assertion is not proof.
We have seen that both Paul’s personal contact and temporal proximity with the original disciples precludes a late development of the notion of physical resurrection, which is implied by the anti-docetic hypothesis. And Paul’s doctrine can hardly be explained away as an anti-docetic apologetic, for it was the crass materialism of the Jewish doctrine of resurrection that Paul’s Corinthian opponents probably gagged at (I Cor 15.35), so that Paul found it necessary to emphasize the transformation of the earthly body into a supernatural body. An anti-docetic apologetic would have been counter-productive. Hence, the evidence of Paul precludes that the physical resurrection was an apologetic development of the gospels aimed at Docetism.